Health Officials Ask $70 Million More for AIDS

Times Staff Writer

The nation’s top public health officials Thursday asked Congress for an additional $70 million in AIDS funding for fiscal 1986, primarily for research into new drug therapies and the development of a vaccine.

“We believe there is a need to expand beyond our current request in order to evaluate new drugs and therapies and gain a better understanding of the prevalence of AIDS,” Dr. James O. Mason, acting secretary for health, told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human resources.

The Public Health Service proposal, which is still under review by the Office of Management and Budget, would be an increase over the $126.3 million already requested by the Reagan Administration for fiscal 1986. It was made a week after President Reagan said at a news conference that he believed the current level of funding was “a vital contribution” in light of “our budgetary constraints.”

Funds Promised

Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee, told Mason: “Whatever you’ve asked for, you’re going to get.”

Meanwhile, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved the additional $70 million in AIDS funding.


Last July, the Administration sought an increase of $40.7 million over the original fiscal 1986 request. The increase, which brought the total to $126.3 million, was obtained by diverting funds from other public health programs.

Mason did not elaborate on how the new money will be spent but draft documents obtained by The Times describe a series of programs proposed by the National Institutes of Health that include nearly $20 million for accelerated research into anti-viral drugs to treat the disease.

The memorandum, prepared by the institutes for the Department of Health and Human Services, proposed that $10 million be spent to establish five AIDS treatment evaluation units in 1986 “for human testing of candidate AIDS anti-viral drugs, immune enhancement agents and procedures and agents for treatment of opportunistic infections and tumors.” It proposed also that five units be established in 1987.

‘Drug Discovery Groups’

Also, the memo said, to promote “the design of powerful anti-viral therapies with unique modes of action,” the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have proposed spending $5.5 million to create several “national drug discovery groups.” These groups would include a cooperative effort of investigators from academic, nonprofit research institutions and industry, with government scientists as participating members.

Because “few, if any, institutions possess a critical mass of all the varied talents required,” the memo said, “the complexities of these modern approaches and the urgency of the AIDS problem demand that the talents of the most creative and dedicated scientists be enlisted in concert.”

The memo said also that more money should be used to speed the availability of promising drugs for experimental use on humans.

“When a compound is found to be highly active in this disease, it will be very important to make it available to the general public quickly,” the memo said, especially because “this disease is rapidly fatal.”

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is an incurable, usually fatal disease caused by a virus that destroys the body’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to otherwise rare infections. The disease is transmitted through sexual contact--by the exchange of bodily fluids--through sharing unsterilized hypodermic needles and through transfusions of contaminated blood or blood products.

High-Risk Groups

Those at highest risk include male homosexuals and bisexuals, intravenous drug users and their steady sexual partners. As of Monday, there were 13,402 reported cases and 6,830 deaths.

Researchers have said that a successful AIDS treatment must prevent the virus from reproducing in human cells and must restore the impaired immune system. At least six anti-viral drugs are now being studied.

In another development, the Centers for Disease Control, reporting on the level of AIDS among health care workers treating AIDS patients, said again that the risk of transmission from patients is “extremely low.”

The CDC said that, of 1,758 health care workers studied, 26 tested positive for the presence of AIDS antibodies in their blood, meaning that they had been exposed to the virus. However, all but three were members of high-risk groups for AIDS and two of the three had been exposed to the virus through “needle stick” injuries. Information was not available on the third, the agency said.

Similar Monkey Disease

Meanwhile, Harvard scientists reported in the journal Science that a close relative of the AIDS virus can devastate the immune systems of monkeys and said the finding should speed the search for ways to treat and prevent the disease in people.

“I think the impact of this will be enormous,” said Dr. Norman Letvin, who directed the research at Harvard’s New England Regional Primate Research Center. He said that the monkey disease could serve as an animal “model” for AIDS, which could help in testing drugs and developing a vaccine.

Dr. William A. Haseltine, a Harvard researcher, told the subcommittee that an Army study in Berlin showed that 5.4% of U.S. soldiers seeking treatment for venereal disease in June were infected with AIDS after contact with German prostitutes.

“These aren’t homosexuals,” he said. “These aren’t drug abusers. These are normal young guys who visited prostitutes . . . . They will bring this virus home to their wives, to their families, and they will be infected. So we are dealing with what must be considered to be a venereal disease . . . . We are facing a major problem.”

However, Weicker questioned whether enough soldiers were involved to draw any broad conclusions. He cited a similar study, possibly the same one, that put the infection rate at four cases of AIDS among 74 soldiers seeking treatment for VD.